Meet Emily: Jewish Historical Reenactor of the Week

by Hannah Angerman / March 9, 2022

Emily, a white woman, smiles and stands in a green and black handmade period dress

Emily Shifflett is a historical reenactor, animal lover, and crafter–and deeply passionate about engaging with history in some pretty cool ways! Read the full interview to discover how Emily connects her love of history with her Jewish identity.

GatherDC: What brought you to the DMV and what made you stay here?

Emily: I’m from California and had originally wanted to come east for college, but I was accepted to study Animal Science at UC Davis, and it was an opportunity I had to say yes to!  After college my boyfriend got into grad school in DC and it made sense to move out here. I eventually found a historical reenactment group where I’ve made some incredible friends. Also my sister followed me out here and then my parents followed after her. So all my family’s here now.

GatherDC: Could you tell us more about the historical reenactment group?

Emily: It’s really, really special. The organization is called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). The first thing that brought me to this kind of work was food. I have a background in the food industry, but my connection to food started with cooking. I’ve always felt particularly connected to Jewish foods, and historical food trends have always been something I’ve found really fascinating. When I moved here a friend of mine told me about SCA. I showed up and met people that were interested in the same kind of history and fiber arts as me (I’ve also been knitting since I was 10 years old). And it kind of just clicked for me! 

Emily stands with her boyfriend in front of a city block

GatherDC: Wow that is so cool! Do you have a specialty or persona?

Emily: Yes! My specialty is 15th-century Spain. The clothes are really comfortable and really pretty. Working in this time period is also an interesting way to bring Judaism into the SCA. This specialty is a cool way to bridge the gap between my passion for history and my Judaism. [Editor’s Note: If you are interested in Emily’s work check out her website here!]

GatherDC:  Could you tell us a bit more about how Judaism fits into historical reenactment?

Emily: There is actual anthropological material on how people lived their lives as Jews in the period that I study. There’s a lot of really fascinating interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the 15th century. The geopolitical sphere of the time really affected how you could be Jewish in Spain in this time period. There are truly so many connections to be made between being Jewish and the time period I work in.

GatherDC: What are some other ways that you connect with Judaism?

Emily: One way I connect with Judaism is through food. I have a busy schedule so little things that are conscious choices about Judaism are generally how I interact with it. For example, we light shabbat candles every week. I actually have a travel set of Shabbat candles that I bring to events with me.

Emily sits in a kayak on a river surrounded by greenery. Her legs are stretched out in front of her and her head is facing away from the camera

GatherDC: Do you have a favorite Jewish food?

Emily: I feel obligated to say brisket. Probably brisket or beef cheeks and beef tongue. Honestly the weirder the cut the better. I also really just love kasha (cooked porridge made from buckwheat) because it was the comfort food I had when I was growing up.

GatherDC: What’s one thing you can’t get through the day without?

Emily: I am an unabashed caffeine addict. I also can’t get through the day without randomly snuggling one of my cats. I’m about to go back into the office after being home for two straight years, and I’m interested to see how I get through the day without them! . One of the best parts about working from home is that I can snuggle them whenever I want.

GatherDC: Could you describe your dream day in the DMV area from start to finish?Emily: I would probably go into Georgetown for a little bit and then head to Blue Bottle for coffee. I like spending time at the outdoor places in DC, and I love going to the Library of Congress when it’s open. I just discovered that the Folger Shakespeare Library actually has one of the largest collections of historical cookbooks in the country so I would have to pay a visit there too.And the rest of the day would definitely involve Ethiopian food at some point! Some combination of everything I’ve said would be a great DMV day.

Emily and another historical reenactor talk while in period dress at an event

GatherDC: What is something you do to relax or for fun at the end of a long week?

Emily: I really love archery, and it’s one of the things I do as part of reenactment. I haven’t been able to do as much physical activity recently so I am looking forward to getting back into sports like archery and riding horses. I’m really itching to get back in the saddle!

GatherDC: Can you complete the sentence: When the Jews of DC gather…

Emily: It is a warm and welcoming environment!

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